Meet Ruder, the wonder dog.

When Ruger struts into a room, everyone takes notice. He is 190 pounds of pure love.  Ruger is a Great Dane and the beloved therapy dog of Tammy Gazafy. Together, they brighten the days of students, seniors and children all over our community thanks to the Humane Hearts Therapy Program of the Humane Society of Forsyth County.

Tammy, a surgical coordinator for Graivier Center in Alpharetta, says Ruger has been certified as a therapy dog for nearly two years. What Tammy, Ruger, and the folks at Humane Hearts are doing is truly something special.

Tammy and Ruger make monthly visits to see the children at Coal Mountain Elementary School in Cumming during the school year. There, they make their rounds to several different classrooms: two second grade classes, one kindergarten, and two special needs classes. “I love the days when Ruger comes – it makes me want to get up and come to school,” says one student. The children sit in small groups and read to Ruger. For the kids who don’t read as well, reading to Ruger is much less intimidating than reading in front of their classmates.

“Some of our special needs children who communicate very little, have started looking for the dogs and are actually articulating ‘doggy!’” says Dr. Deana Brown, counselor at Coal Mountain Elementary School in Cumming. This is a huge step for the kids and very exciting for Tammy, Ruger, and all the Humane Hearts volunteers.

For Tammy, having a therapy dog has been an eye-opening experience. She loves seeing how students light up when they walk into a classroom. When they see Ruger parade into the room, kids that don’t normally smile, grin from ear to ear.

Tammy finds support from friends and colleagues at the Graivier Center where she has worked for 11 years. “My co-workers and patients at Graivier Center support me in so many ways. From donations of food, blankets and cleaning supplies to participating in 5k races other rescue groups,” says Tammy. “My Graivier team also provides  so much support so Ruger and I can get out in the middle of the day to volunteer at schools with Humane Hearts.”  

Humane Hearts has more than 60 volunteers, who, along with their dogs, made more than 1,000 visits in 2017. They visit schools in Forsyth and surrounding counties and five libraries for the PAWS to READ program where children read to the dogs. “Volunteers visit a dozen assisted living homes and hospices, work with Homeless Pet Clubs in schools, and participate in Parks and Recreation programs for kids to educate them on appropriate pet handling,” says Bea Wilson, director of the Humane Hearts Pet Therapy Program. “We greatly appreciate folks like Tammy Gazafy, a working woman, who finds a way to volunteer and share Ruger with the kids.” 

During the summer, when school is out, you can find Tammy and Ruger at summer camps for kids or visiting friends at Creative Enterprises where they help adults with disabilities and others with barriers to employment in maximizing their potential.